Days after nightlife venues reopened in July, a 21-year-old died, and two others were hospitalised after taking lethal
drugs at a nightclub in London. On the same weekend, another person was killed, alongside a further twenty
hospitalisations due to harmful pills circulating in Bristol.
These drug-related incidents are incredibly tragic for the individuals, their families and communities. They are also
heart-breaking for nightlife workers and operators, who want to do all they can to keep customers safe. The current
landscape around drugs policy and licensing is failing, and a move towards harm-reduction is vital to protect those
who visit nightlife venues, and businesses from resulting licensing issues.
We support the introduction of drug safety testing services for the public to prevent further tragedies.
– Drug-related deaths are currently highest on record despite no significant increase in usage, often the result
of mis-selling, drugs being cut or adulterated with other substances, and an oversaturated drugs market
where dealers seek higher purities for competitive advantage.
– Further market distortion has been brought by Covid-19, Brexit, and disruption to the drugs supply chain,
meaning that almost half of drug samples sold as MDMA and tested at UK festivals in 2021 contained no
MDMA at all, compared to 2% in 2019 (Source: The Loop).
– Frequent nightclub customers are ten times more likely to take Class A drugs than non-clubbers.
– Due to licensing conditions, venues are forced to take a hard-line ‘zero tolerance’ approach to drug use but,
in reality, it is very difficult to stop people bringing drugs into nightclubs if they are determined to do so.
– Despite this, a number of legal, political and cultural barriers prevent dialogue on this topic and venue
operators feel they cannot share harm reduction guidance due to risk of licensing issues or legal liability.
Venues that do take progressive measures fear being singled out by authorities or the police.
– If a drug-related incident occurs within a venue, operators are held responsible, often scapegoated and risk
their license being revoked – e.g. the closures of the Rainbow Venues in Birmingham (2018), or the Arches in
– Communities then lose important cultural spaces, while nothing is done to prevent further drug-related
Drug safety testing services
– Drug safety testing services have been provided by non-profit, The Loop, at UK festivals since 2016.
– The system involves members of the public anonymously placing a sample of their substance for analysis,
which they then receive in a confidential intervention with a healthcare professional.
– The sample is not returned to the user and the user has the opportunity to ask any questions and dispose of
the rest of their drugs. The providers of this service are clear that they do not condone or encourage drug
– The Loop have found that half of service users choose not to consume a substance, or consume less than
intended, once they were aware of what their substance contained. This addresses the gap between what a
dealer claims to have sold and the actual drugs themselves.
– 9 in 10 users had never discussed drug use with a healthcare professional before using The Loop’s services,
and the scheme shows that drug use actually decreases due to the fact that users decide not to take harmful
substances (Source: The Loop).
– While this service is welcomed for festivals, there is not yet regular city-centre testing facilities for drug use
in licensed venues.
Frequently asked questions
– Is this legal?
Drug safety testing services are legal if implemented correctly and done with the support of local authorities and
the police. It is important that any service is not seen to be encouraging or enabling drug use, and no substances
are returned to users. Different local authorities may have different regulatory regimes so any testing service
must be conducted in line with approved local guidance.
– How does this uphold licensing conditions?
The Licensing Act (2003) requires that venues prevent crime and disorder and promote public safety. In Scotland
venues also have the objective to protect and improve public health. Drug safety testing services meet objectives
to promote public safety, but also help to prevent crime and disorder by enabling authorities to focus on other
more serious offences such as assault and violence. This means testing is not necessarily a balance between
public safety and criminality, and actually helps to uphold the objectives of the Licensing Act.
– Shouldn’t resources be better spent elsewhere?
Some may believe that those who use drugs are undeserving of care however we feel it is imperative that venues
protect the safety of customers and avoid further drug-related deaths. Drug testing services would reduce the
burden of medical support on the health service and on the police, both under increased strain during peak times.
Testing would also help to ensure that venues are not forced to close and can continue to bring economic benefits
to local communities and neighbouring businesses.
– Are there any other benefits to these services?
Conducted with the support of local stakeholders, evidence obtained through drug safety checks can be passed
on to the police to inform authorities of updated information on drugs in circulation. The interventions users
receive from healthcare professionals is incredibly valuable, given that the core demographic of club drug users is
typically not in regular contact with health services. Active interventions are far more likely to cause behavioural
change than passive information and the service allows users to seek further information from health services, be
it for mental, sexual or physical health issues.
– What needs to change?
Drug testing services are already legally compliant, however must have the approval of local authorities. This can
be achieved by tackling the stigma around this issue and communicating the wider societal benefits brought by
an emphasis on harm-reduction rather than an unhelpful and ineffective ‘zero tolerance’ stance. It would be
helpful for central government funding and guidance to promote this.